Orlando spent about 30 minutes behind closed doors following Thursday’s loss in Portland. In that 30-minute meeting, Dwight Howard pretty much told the team they folded once the Trail Blazers turned it into second gear and started putting pressure on the team. Pretty strong words for sure.
The first sign of trouble in Salt Lake City came at just about the same time it did in Portland the night before. Paul Milsap took over the last five minutes of the second quarter to give Utah a one-point halftime lead. Deron Williams took over and the Jazz increased their defensive pressure in the second half and Orlando folded for the second straight night. After scoring 57 points in the first half, the Magic scored 48 in the second. Unfortunately they gave up 69.
Those numbers pretty much sum up a night where nothing worked defensively. Utah swept the season series and took a 117-105 victory at Energy Solutions Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The Jazz really put it on the Magic from the middle of the second quarter on. Deron Williams came out of the locker room and set the tone and his energy became infectious. He once again proved to be a thorn in Orlando’s side. Williams had 32 points and nine assists, shooting nine for 17 from the floor and an uncharacteristic four for seven from long range. Williams was simply unstoppable, driving into the lane to create for others and then taking over offensively early in the third quarter.
Orlando meanwhile became stagnant offensively. Jameer Nelson, who spent much of the first half doing his own penetrating and creating for others, struggled to get Orlando into its offense and was one of many players who settled for jumpers. When the ball did find its way in to the paint for Dwight Howard, Al Jefferson played a masterful game. Jefferson poked and prodded at the ball, forced Howard into uncomfortable shots and just plain played physical with him (something you have to do against Howard). The referees were not calling any fouls because mostly Jefferson was not fouling him. And at least they kept it consistent. Little bumps never got the calls.
Either way Orlando — and especially Howard — constantly looked to the referees for a call that would never come. Meanwhile Utah went back down the floor and took it right at Orlando. The Magic faced some increased defensive pressure and could not fight or shake it off.
A night after saying his team needed to be tougher, Dwight Howard and the Magic were not.
The Jazz, a physical team that has an exact and methodical offensive style, just out-toughed the Magic in a lot of ways tonight. Utah shot 32 free throws and stayed in an offensive flow. Orlando did not match the physicality and Utah took advantage.
The Jazz were pretty much unstoppable all night long offensively as the Magic’s defense continued to be curiously and uncharacteristically lackadaisical. Williams was wreaking havoc, but so was Millsap, Jefferson, Andrei Kirilenko and C.J. Miles. Orlando gave up 53.9 percent shooting and 10-for-16 shooting from beyond the arc. A lot of those 3-pointers were open as the Magic were over-rotating or simply letting too much penetration occur. This is not the typical defensive effort you would expect from a Stan Van Gundy team. Unfortunately it is becoming more of a norm (or at least a pattern).
Utah ran out to a 127.2 offensive efficiency and 60.5 percent effective field goal percentage.
Miles had 26 points off the bench, doing a lot of his damage from beyond the arc in the fourth quarter as Utah answered any attempted run from Orlando and torched a last-ditch effort ot use a zone defense to try and slow down this offensive juggernaut. Kirilenko had 17 and 13, also doing damage throughout the fourth quarter.
The Magic never really got the lead closer than seven. They did not play bad enough to get blown out (which might have been better than the limbo they were in) but did not do well enough to make this a contest. Orlando’s offense slowed down in the face of Utah’s defense and it simply did not have enough to make up the gap.
All five starters scored in double figures, led by Jameer Nelson’s 19 points and 10 assists. But as Stan Van Gundy pointed out after the game, the individual offensive numbers were not the problem. The problem was on the defensive end.
And solving that problem has to the primary concern of everyone within the Magic staff right now. This West Coast trip was going to reveal this team’s character. Right now, you have to hope they do not like what they have seen.